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Squandering the ‘Manitoba advantage’

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IN 1960, Premier Duff Roblin spearheaded the construction of the Red River Floodway. Ridiculed at the time for its perceived exorbitant cost, “Duff’s Ditch” is estimated to have prevented more than $40 billion in flood and infrastructure damage to Winnipeg and surrounding areas.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/11/2021 (377 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

IN 1960, Premier Duff Roblin spearheaded the construction of the Red River Floodway. Ridiculed at the time for its perceived exorbitant cost, “Duff’s Ditch” is estimated to have prevented more than $40 billion in flood and infrastructure damage to Winnipeg and surrounding areas.

Sixty years later, Manitobans find themselves again needing extensive financial and political commitment to mitigate the impact of future disasters stemming from the much larger threat of climate change.

Unfortunately, today there appears to be a lack of political ambition to invest in impactful solutions. This has been rendered abundantly clear by the recent release of Efficiency Canada’s 2021 Provincial Energy Efficiency Scorecard. This comprehensive benchmarking of provincial energy-efficiency policies ranked Manitoba eighth, down from sixth place last year.

Manitoba, once an energy-policy powerhouse, is sinking under the weight of government procrastination and miserly investment. Being a producer of renewables and riding on policy successes of the 1990s no longer support our competitive advantage.

Simply put, this is a question of provincial government priorities. There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about attacking the provincial deficit; however, it is well recognized that the effects climate change will have on our economy will far surpass the initial investment required to help mitigate it.

As it stands, the amount of provincial funding for energy efficiency projects has diminished. Available federal funding is being underutilized. Provincial program funding in 2020 was at a record-low $22.5 million — down from $62.4 million in 2017. No other province saw such a precipitous decline over the same period.

Granted, Efficiency Manitoba had the inconvenient task of assuming administration of programming at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. And to the organization’s credit, we remain one of the few provinces with clear legislated targets for both electricity and natural gas savings. It is the lack of vision in other areas that continues to limit our growth.

The province has done little to progress provincial policy. We still haven’t moved beyond the 2011 version of the National Energy Code for Buildings, unlike nearly every other province. According to Efficiency Canada, moving to the 2017 codes alone would result in an average annual energy savings of up to 14.4 per cent per building.

Can we do better? Absolutely. Manitoba is well placed to optimize energy efficiency and greenhouse-gas reduction through effective and proven policies and programs. For example, the City of Winnipeg’s Building Energy Disclosure Project could be expanded province-wide, setting mandatory benchmarking targets for commercial buildings to lower their overall energy consumption.

We could further our ambition by adopting 2017 national building codes — or better yet, a net-zero building code for new buildings and mandated retrofit efficiency targets.

In addition, increased funding for both existing and new efficiency programs through Efficiency Manitoba, especially for lower-income Manitobans, will provide consumers with more choices on how to manage their energy habits.

Investing in advanced metering initiatives would incentivize more homes and businesses to install smart meters to better track energy consumption, helping them identify ways to reduce it over time. We also need to invest in training for jobs that can help measure and execute energy efficiency initiatives.

Manitobans who applied for the new Canada Greener Homes grant have experienced months-long waits, primarily because we don’t have enough qualified advisors processing the large number of applications. Manitoba currently has 0.2 energy advisors per 10,000 houses — the lowest in the country.

Finally, Manitoba should be working more with local governments to plan, properly fund and implement active transportation strategies. Investing in infrastructure solutions that reduce our reliance on single-driver vehicles should be a priority. Manitoba funds only seven per cent of the province’s overall public transit, compared to 20 per cent in Alberta.

A functional and funded multi-modal transportation plan will empower Manitobans with real choices in how they commute, without feeling like a private vehicle is their only option.

We often talk about the “Manitoba advantage” — what makes us unique and well-suited to attract jobs, businesses and capital. However, slipping two spots on the national scorecard to eighth place should be a wake-up call for our government and economic stakeholders.

Today’s Manitoba advantage is not applicable to the all-important topics of climate resilience and energy efficiency solutions. As we did with Duff’s Ditch, we need to have a clear vision and funding that will have a positive long-term impact on our province’s economic and business climate.

Amanda San Filippo and Matt Schaubroeck work in the clean technology and energy efficiency sector in Winnipeg.

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